Wednesday, 15 March 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare draws attention to a German restoration of of Veit Harlan's OPFERGANG (Germany, 1944)

If Slavoj ZIzek were around at the moment he would almost certainly have even more to say than I about Carl Raddatz and Kristina Soederbaum at the masked ball sequence from Veit Harlan's most impressive Third Reich era movie, Opfergang (The Great Sacrifice) released in 1944. Coming as it does just on the heels of HItler's disastrous Russian winter campaign and the beginning of the end for the Reich, and Germany itself, which would later be treated to an historically unprecedented series of carpet bombings on all its major cities by "Bomber" Harris and the vengeful allies in 1945.

Carl Raddatz, Opfergang
The movie literally aches with regret and profound melancholy, indeed emblematically Carl Raddatz, a popular actor in movies of the era reacts with disdain to his wife's sympathetic family of haute bourgeois intellectuals whose paterfamilias does Sunday readings from the more sublime passages of Nietzsche as a kind of penance, all to the dismissal of Raddatz/"Albrecht " who instead finds a kind of transcendental but temporary redemption through a mystery "Nature Woman" played by Harlan's own wife, Soederbaum.

Kristina Soederbaum, Opfergang
The masked ball sequence on display here is probably the visual highlight of this incredible film, which could only be seen for many decades of oblivion through furtive back-channel distribution via peer to peer sites, after the director's Nazi postwar shame trial and the (to me) misguided attempt to lay blame for the entire Nazi propaganda machine at Harlan's feet. It took a British court to exonerate him from yet another final show trial in 1951 which at least allowed him to get back into film making, but nothing more came near the very high level of his work from 1938 to 1945 at UfA including Verwhete Spueren (Covered Tracks), 1938) which was the first of several treatments of the "missing child" mystery that resurfaced in So Long at the Fair (Terence Fisher and Antony Farnborough, UK)  in 1950 and Prem's Bunny Lake is Missing in 1965.

The screens are from a stunning Blu-ray from Concorde released in Germany last year, mastered from a knockout restoration from original Agfacolor elements with comparably close attention to the audio track which was salvaged from a magnetic track Agfa print. The restoration comes from the Murnau Stiftung people and I am bringing it to your attention despite its lack of subtitles because I earnestly hope an English friendly label might take the plunge and step over the political minefield that still surrounds Harlans' work as well as the Third Reich era, down to and including several of Sirk's late 30s films for UfA before he fled to the States.

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